13th October 2005
Museveni aides tell him lies

JOHN KISEMBO retired in 2001 as Inspector General of Police after the Justice Sebutinde probe in the force. He has since become deputy director of the Nakawa-based United Nations African Institute for Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders (UNAFRI). As he told Richard M. Kavuma, the police has had to work hard to win the confidence of President Museveni.

Joining the Police

I joined in March 1980. When we left Makerere in 1979, the Public Service Commission was paralysed. There were jobs but some of the commissioners had run away… some of us had just one interview; others had not even had one when the commissioners fled.
With friends we used to meet somewhere on Kimathi Avenue to chat and plan what to do next. Then there was this appeal by the government, asking particularly graduates to join the Police Force.
We sat interviews and 30 of us were selected to join as cadet assistant superintendents of police, the first group of graduate cadet police officers.

Becoming police chief

When the NRA/M took power, I was a regional officer in Mbarara and shortly thereafter, I was transferred to Kampala Special Branch headquarters.

I was sent to head the Protective Security section. It provided escorts to VIPs, covered national and international functions, and frequently I was able to see the president at close quarters, but we were never talking as such.

I became IGP in 1999; I had been deputy Inspector General since 1992 and I would have been surprised if anyone below me had been appointed. It was on a Saturday and the Minister of Internal Affairs at the time, Tom Butime, called me to say that ‘I have been instructed to appoint you acting Inspector General of Police’.

I went to State House, among other things, to thank him for the confidence he had put in me. During that time, we had occasions to brief the president on the situation of the nation. We also got summons after key incidents.

That was also the time of political campaigns for the 2001 elections. We had very many meetings to discuss what we intended to do to ensure security and to answer the numerous complaints that were sent to him.

Museveni’s personality

His strong points… his concern for the wellbeing of the common man, what he called my wananchi viz-a-viz the policing. I also found he had command of facts and detail when given right information. I must say he was a tough client. He always wanted facts. And over time we discovered … some people did not understand policing. Everybody thought they could police. As a result, the President was given a very wrong picture about the police –incompetent, unpatriotic, etc. You heard the President’s pronouncement about corruption, about the police fighting the NRM, which was not true.

There were people who would say, for example, during campaigns that ‘such people are anti-government, they should be investigated and arrested’. And the same group in NRM would get involved in similar activities and they shouldn’t be arrested. You are eating your cake and keeping it.

So we got into problems of misinformation. Most of the time we were trying to correct the wrong impression that many people were giving the President. There was talk right from 1986 [of abolishing the police] – about the loyalty of the police, about the police serving all other governments and remaining, while others like the army go away. They did not understand that the police was a civil force.
But I think over time the President got to know the positive side of the police, although he remained a bit skeptical.

Surrounded by liars

These were people who were believed to be impeccable and they had his ear all the time, unlike us who had to seek appointments. And I imagine some of these people tried to keep us, the police, away from the President.

But in the end, I think he came to understand the police because the relationship became a bit smooth: “These are the facts; these are opinions,” unlike in the past when he used to say, “You people don’t like the government. You are fighting government.”
One incident was in Mbale, where the late James Wapakhabulo lost the election. The politicians pointed at one polling station that was near the police barracks. This station was to cater for the Mbale bus park, taxi park, the shops around the market and the barracks. Also, most police officers were out because they were already deployed to police the polls. And that took many years as an example of how the police disliked the Movement.

But there were many complaints about the police and [President] would call us. Eventually when the police started talking to him, standing its ground on some of the issues that were being raised, he started understanding.

He listened

He listened when he got correct information.
I will give you one example: we had an incident in Kangulumira (Mukono) during the presidential campaigns where a jilted lover cut down his in-law’s plantation.

Operatives from State House had been sent because people came running that the multiparty group was harassing the Movement supporters and the police was doing nothing.

And he got to me to say, why are they harassing my people and you are not protecting them? He raised the Kangulumira issue and I had already been briefed by the Regional Police Commander (RPC).
I told him “it is not true. The information I have is contrary to what you have.” He asked, “Have you been there?” I said I had not been there but the District Police Commander had briefed the RPC who in turn briefed me.

He said, “Why don’t you go and verify?”
And we went to Kangulumira with the PRO [Public Relations Officer], the local police chiefs and met the Movement and multiparty leaders. We filmed the scene and held a meeting at the sub-county headquarters, and everybody including the Movement supporters were saying, there is nothing political. Somebody’s wife had absconded with another man and the jilted lover went and cut the plantation, and everybody knew. And the victim was not a Movement supporter. The victim was a [Besigye] supporter.

And so we got all the evidence and gave it to him. I remember we met in the morning as he went to Tanzania, and he told me, “I want your report in the evening.”
Fortunately, we had done a video recording of everything and the statements made, and I put it all to him on his return in the evening. At midnight he rang me and said, “Thank you, my people had told me falsehoods.”
So when he got an opportunity of being corrected, I think he listened.

Comparing presidents

I would rather talk about the [Museveni and Obote] systems rather than individual presidents. At one time, like in the early 1980s, the army was above the law and had so many clashes with the police.
The army has got one problem: they will make an arrest and don’t care about the evidence. When you go to court, that case will be thrown out. Now, the army was not prosecuting cases. It was the police. Then they will say the police is incompetent…

I remember in 1986, Lt. Gen. Aronda [Nyakairima] was assigned to supervise Central Police Station to curb corruption, incompetence and what... So we had very many suspects arrested, but then they did not have files. And they were asking, “Why can’t these people go to court?” And we said, “but there is no evidence”.
I remember he eventually walked out of CPS and never handed over because he discovered it was not his area.
But [generally from 1986], the army was very disciplined, and that is the starting point for any security system.


There was an inquiry into corruption in the police and [I had to step a side]. I must say it was run very unprofessionally. The judge condemned us on allegations which were never investigated and were subsequently overturned by various bodies. I was cleared by the IGG [Inspector General of Government] of all allegations labeled against me. But by then the President had already appointed Maj. Gen. Katumba Wamala.

Before the IGG’s report, I met [Museveni] at Kisozi and I complained to him about the unfair treatment I and my colleagues had received. And he said well, the IGG… will investigate and give me a report.
When the report came out, I had two meetings with him; one at Kisozi and another when I was taking leave at Rwakitura. There was an Inspector General of Police and I could not question his choice of IGP or say that “since I have been cleared, can Wamala go back to the army?”

Under the Police Statute, the retirement age is 55, but there is a provision that you can retire after putting in 21 years of continuous service and you have attained the age of 45. I had attained both, so I opted to retire from Public Service.

Saying goodbye

Once I told him my feelings about the inquiry and I remember him saying, “Look, this inquiry was badly done so we have to spend money to carry out another investigation.”
He said he had seen the report and he regretted that a bad job had been done, and he offered me a few options, one of which was a presidential advisor on the police. But later on he and I were not very comfortable with this because - I had just come out of an inquiry where my image and reputation had been tainted and then becoming an advisor…

So he said he was going to think about my redeployment. And then this job came up. I told him there is a job in UNAFRI and it is open to Ugandans. And I remember him talking to his Principal Private Secretary to alert Mr. Eriya Kategaya, then Minister of Internal Affairs, about that job and John Kisembo. That is when I was encouraged to apply.

Fighting corruption

There are a few cases that have remained controversial but by and large there are very many cases for which he demanded briefs and for which he gave directives in support of the investigations. I think he displayed some commitment to fighting corruption. Most of the high profile cases, the President had to be briefed and we never found any interruption from him. But of course there were some officials who would come to say, “You know, you see”, to the extent of saying the President has said this… And the President later says, “No I never said that.”


I think I tried to do my best and I am happy with my contribution to Public Service and as head of the Police Force.